by Chris Whitehouse
6 December 2022
In the latest of a series of articles, Chris Whitehouse, an expert on medical technology policy at Whitehouse Communications and chair of the Urology Trade Association, updates readers on digital transformation in the NHS and looks ahead to the new year.
Digital transformation concept
2022 has been a hugely significant year for the health service. Challenges ranging from legislative change through the Health and Care Act 2022 to the growing elective care backlog, have required NHS leaders to adapt and embrace new ways of working. Transformation is well underway in the digital space, building on the NHS Long Term Plan in 2019, which put on record the service’s commitment to supporting digital transformation.
Back in May, the Health and Social Care Select Committee launched an inquiry on Digital Transformation in the NHS. The Committee set out to explore the current use of digital technology in healthcare and examine how it needed to change to deliver an improvement in patient outcomes and services. The Committee, like the Government, has had its own reshuffle in recent weeks, but it nevertheless returned to look at these issues in depth earlier this month.
In its latest inquiry session on 15 November, the Committee heard from witnesses representing influential health organisations, including The King’s Fund and the Royal College of General Practitioners. The session covered a host of issues relating to the use of technology, reflecting the broad-ranging impacts of embracing digitalisation across the health service.
Like medtech innovation, the primary motivation of digital transformation in the NHS should be delivering better medical outcomes for patients. However, digital transformation can also deliver efficient and connected IT systems, help healthcare professionals communicate better and alleviate workforce pressures at a time of unprecedented demand.
The pandemic accelerated government efforts to adopt digital technologies out of necessity, yet for most, there will be no desire to return to pre-pandemic ways of thinking. Virtual wards, smart goggles, and health and wellbeing apps are all excellent examples of digital technologies that are delivering patient care at home.
The chancellor’s Autumn Statement committed to increasing data transparency across the NHS, which will support efforts to enable patients to make decisions over where to access their care and from which provider. It also committed to reforming retained EU law in digital technology and life sciences, to unlock growth in these sectors. Increasing data transparency between organisations will be critical given the important role played by the independent sector in tackling the backlog.
The innovations are there, but there needs to be collaboration across the board if the service is to take full advantage of the opportunities. Clinicians need to be involved in the process to advise on which changes will deliver improved outcomes both for patients and for the service as a whole. As rightly acknowledged during the Committee inquiry session, clinicians are immensely stretched at present, so collaboration is difficult, but should nevertheless remain a priority.
The inquiry session also discussed the need for a “culture change” within organisations to facilitate digital transformation. Given that technology is more accepted and commonplace in our everyday lives, it is hard to see unwillingness to embrace digital technology being an issue in the future.
Looking ahead to 2023, we can expect new and exciting technologies to emerge, beginning to develop clearer regulation on mental health apps, and a renewed drive by NHS England to offer virtual GP appointments. As this year draws to a close, we have reason to be optimistic for the future, but only if government and the NHS can fully maximise the opportunities on offer.
Questions about or comments upon this article can be addressed to the author at [email protected].
by Chris Whitehouse
6 December 2022
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